Monday afternoon, the Rick Nash sweepstakes finally came to an end when the New York Rangers acquired the 28 year-olds services in a blockbuster deal. Trading Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon, Artem Anisimov, and a first-round pick in 2013 to Columbus, New York finally acquired the scorer they were looking for and the Blue Jackets got some pieces to try and start rebuilding (again).
Still, there are significant issues with both sides of this trade.
For one, Scott Howson needed to hit a home run with this deal. He did not.
Even after making such moves as basically giving Jeff Carter away, announcing that he would have taken Ryan Murray over Nail Yakupov if the Jackets had won the draft lottery, and reportedly refusing the Islanders’ entire draft (yes, every pick) for the right to draft Murray, I really hoped, and in some ways, expected that Howson would force a team to pay through the nose to get their hands on no. 61. But he didn’t.
Make no mistake about it; Howson certainly got some good pieces. I’ve never been partial to Brandon Dubinsky myself, but he is a good physical player who can help the Blue Jackets despite a mediocre 2011-12. Artem Anismov is another good building block and an NHL player, but has yet to play a significant top six role in his NHL career. Tim Erixon gives the Blue Jackets three “top four” defensemen. The first-round pick is a bonus.
But this is Rick Nash, who on the outside was probably the most coveted trade target in the entire NHL this summer. After trading Jeff Carter away for a minimal return, Howson had one big asset left to try and get some prime pieces for the Blue Jackets. For the majority of the time it was known Nash was available, it certainly seemed like Howson was perusing the right types of players. Dougie Hamilton from Boston. Brayden Schenn or Sean Couturier from Philadelphia. Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, or Ryan McDonagh from the Rangers.
In the end, he didn’t get any of them. Howson was in a position of relative power with his captain. He had what Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and others that were on Nash’s approved list (according to TSN’s Darren Dreger) wanted badly, and at first, he refused to give it to them unless they gave him a prime piece. Eventually, Howson blinked first, shipping away his captain and the best player the Blue Jackets franchise had ever seen for a solid, if unspectacular, package of players and picks.
It’s not that the pieces are bad or not acceptable. It’s not that Nash is worth more. In fact, I think you could argue he’s worth less long term. It’s just that I would expect more from a process that has lasted more than five months.
From a Rangers perspective, this is an excellent deal in the short term. With Kreider ready to take on a much bigger role this upcoming season, the Rangers are really only losing one key cog in the machine that went to the Eastern Conference finals last year in Dubinsky – Anisimov, while a very good player, never carved out a large role. New York has their defense set for the foreseeable future, so Erixon was a bit of an expendable. And, in theory, the first round pick will be low – probably 26th or worse – next June at the draft.
Over the next two years, I would expect a top line Nash, Brad Richards, and Ryan Callahan to be very productive, and would be comfortable penciling Nash in for around 30 goals and 65 points with a real center to feed him the puck. Nash is a big, physical, and dynamic player with the puck on his stick who can also kill penalties and does add skill and power to the Rangers’ lineup. In the short term.
In the long term, this deal has the potential to be an absolute anchor. With an annual cap hit of $7.8 million until 2018, Nash currently owns the fifth-highest seasonal salary number in the entire NHL. A strong argument can be made that Nash isn’t worth that now, and it remains unlikely that he will be worth that in two years, regardless of who is playing on his line.
Not only could the Rangers have almost $8 million in annual space tied up in Nash, but they now have a combined $21.97 million tied up in three forwards who are likely past their prime in Nash, Richards, and Marian Gaborik. What’s more, three young Rangers that will require big raises become restricted free agents next season: Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, and Ryan McDonagh – and no less than 12 of the Rangers’ current NHL roster players are scheduled to be free agents the summer after that. Included in those 12 are players such as Henrik Lundqvist, Callahan, Gaborik, Dan Girardi, and Brian Boyle.
Moreover, this trade presents a harsh reality. It puts big neon signs in the middle of the Rangers’ dressing room and John Tortorella’s office: STANLEY CUP OR BUST. It’s hard to win with that kind of expectation glaring down on you every day.
Funnily enough, I actually think both teams got a bit better today. The Rangers got their scorer to make a run at the Cup now. Columbus got some pieces.
And somehow, I think both teams may have lost this trade.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who writes for Crash the Net and several other NHL websites. He has been credentialed to cover the Washington Capitals, Stanley Cup Final, and NHL Draft. Follow him on Twitter here.